SCRUB project wave 4

Australians’ views on private gatherings, remote working and getting tested

SCRUB project wave 4

Actionable insights for policymakers

Written by Emily Grundy and the SCRUB media team (Peter Slattery, Georgia Buckland, Sanjana Suresh Babu, Marta Mangiarulo, Piper Oren and Christina Dillon).

BehavioursWorks is leading the Australian chapter of the Survey of COVID-19 Responses to Understand Behaviour (SCRUB) project, which aims to give policymakers actionable insights into public attitudes and behaviours relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 120 international collaborators are involved in the project and over 6,000 surveys have been completed by people from more than 40 countries (including many repeat respondents).

The survey measures behaviour, behavioural drivers, COVID-19 attitudes and beliefs, and demographic variables. Outputs include:

  • An interactive dashboard of survey responses,
  • Open data for research academics to answer urgent behavioural research questions and provide a resource for future pandemic preparedness.

The following are a few findings from the fourth wave of Australian data, collected between 01/06/2020 – 12/06/2020 and funded by the Victorian Government.

What protective behaviours are Australians practising?

As we continue to be inundated with reports of COVID-19 cases, recommendations, and the latest updates on restrictions, SCRUB has been collecting data on the personal protective behaviours Australians are maintaining.

Results from Wave 4 indicate that, at the start of June, most Australians reported high levels of compliance with the majority of recommended protective behaviours.

For example, 82% of participants report maintaining good hand hygiene and 90% say they are keeping physical distance in public.

Uptake of the COVIDSafe app still requires some attention, with 53% of respondents reporting that they sometimes, rarely, or never use it in public.

Physical distancing at private gatherings

Australian states are easing restrictions, with each state embarking on this process differently.

In Victoria, for instance, citizens are now allowed to hold private gatherings of up to 20 people in their homes (revised down to 5 as of 23 June), with physical distancing still being advised.

In light of these changes, SCRUB asked participants about their socialising patterns over the last seven days. The majority of participants (approximately 78%) reported having social contact with friends or family in the past week.

Those who did engage in social activities, 80% said that this was in person and in a private space on at least one of those days. Figure 1 provides a breakdown of how many people were keeping physical distance during these private gatherings.

Figure 1. Percentage of respondents who maintained physical distance from friends and family at gatherings.

Figure 1 indicates that nearly half of Australian respondents reported that they always keep physical distance during gatherings with friends and family.

Still, 21.2% reported ‘sometimes’, ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ complying with this protective behaviour.

While SCRUB relies on self-report data, these indications of compliance are crucial to understanding how easing restrictions affects behaviour and transmission risk.

Are people still working from home?

SCRUB data suggests that people working exclusively in person (39%) are still a minority of the population, with most reporting either working remotely, or in a combination of the two settings (see Figure 2).

Intentions to work in person for the week following the survey increased, but only slightly. It is expected that as restrictions ease, as the risk of transmission decreases, this trend will continue.

Figure 2. Behaviours and intentions regarding work setting.

What encourages people to work remotely?

With many Australians still being advised to work remotely if possible, it is important to understand what factors drive compliance with this advice. Figure 3 captures several of these.

Figure 3. Drivers of working remotely.

As seen in the above figure, respondents reported that the main driver of working remotely was being asked to do so.

Over a third of workers (35%) also reported that they were more likely to work from home because there was less risk associated with that setting. Slightly less common was preference—33% of all workers reported preferring to work from home. Difficulty accessing the usual workplace (11%) and the fit with non-work lifestyle needs (16%) were the least common drivers.

Workplace measures to encourage working in person

While organisations and businesses must be aware of what initiatives encourage working from home at present, it is also important to understand what a return to normality would involve in the future.

With this forward-looking approach, SCRUB asked workers about how certain measures could impact and encourage their return to the workplace (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Ratings of measures to encourage a return to the workplace.

The majority of workers reported that providing hand sanitizer in common areas in their workplace would make them more likely to work in person (68%).

This was closely followed by more frequent and intensive workplace cleaning, which was endorsed by 65% of workers. Staggered start times for staff was less popular, with 48% reporting that this would have no impact on their decision to return to the workplace.

Of note is that, while 44% of respondents suggested that the common use of the COVIDSafe app would be an encouraging factor, SCRUB found that over half of participants report sometimes, rarely, or never using the app.

Are we getting tested when we should be?

The criteria, which has to be met to get tested for COVID-19, has been broadened, with Federal Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy stating that “anybody with acute respiratory symptoms, cough, sore throat, runny nose, cold symptoms, flu-like symptoms, can get tested”.

Figure 5 shows how Australian participants who have had cold or flu symptoms in the last week are behaving.

Figure 5. The behaviour of respondents who had cold or flu-like symptoms in the past week.

As seen in Figure 5, only a small number of participants had cold or flu-like symptoms in the past week (6%).

Of those, only 30% got tested for COVID-19. Most Australian participants (93%) who got tested stayed home while waiting for their test results.

Around half of the participants (47%) attended work while they had these symptoms, despite repeated advice to stay home if feeling unwell.

What’s worrying Australians now?

Figure 6 shows that Australians are most worried about an economic recession, society becoming more selfish, and small companies failing.

Over half (61%) of respondents indicated that an economic recession worried them ‘a fair bit’, ‘a lot’ or somewhere in between, while less than 10% indicated they ‘don’t worry at all’.

Related to fears about an economic recession are the concerns of small companies failing and becoming unemployed.

Half of the respondents indicated they worry about small companies failing, and just over one-third (36%) indicated they worry about becoming unemployed.

Figure 6. What Australians are worrying about.

Restricted access to food supplies and schools closing for a long time are now less common worries, with most Australians (77% and 72%, respectively) indicating they ‘worry a little’ or ‘don’t worry at all’ about these issues.

Implications for policymakers

Several insights and implications for policymakers emerge from this data:

  • Insight: Around a fifth of Australians report sometimes, rarely, or never physical distancing from friends and family at gatherings. Implication: This behaviour should continue to be reiterated and encouraged. Using norm-based messaging, such as notifying Australians that 79% often or always comply with this behaviour, could be effective.Insight: Only one third of the Australian sample who experienced cold or flu-like symptoms got tested for COVID-19.
  • Implication: Increase awareness of and access to free testing stations for all Australians. Normalise and reduce stigma behind testing. Campaigns, for example, could encourage individuals, public figures, and celebrities to openly discuss their testing experience.
  • Insight: More frequent and intense workplace cleaning, in addition to access to hand sanitiser, will encourage people to return to the workplace. Implication: Encourage organisations and businesses to plan for the future. Consider how cleaning can be increased, where the most frequented and touched areas of the workplace are, and where hand hygiene stations could be positioned.
  • Insight: Australians are most worried about an economic recession. Implication: Increase public messaging to inform citizens of the relevant steps that national and state governments, and welfare services, are taking to combat the effects of an economic recession. Increase public understanding of what an economic recession might look in the near future, with a focus on practical tips and coping mechanisms.
  • Insight: Australians appear to be embracing the opportunity to socialise with friends and family in person, but nearly a quarter report not having made contact with friends or family in the past week. Implication: Combine public health messages about physical distancing with strategies for maintaining social connection, emphasising the ability to talk through anxieties about reconnecting with community after the pandemic lockdown with friends or professionals (e.g., Beyond Blue).
Learn more or get involved

To learn more about the SCRUB survey, please visit the website and interactive dashboard.

You can access the survey and data here.

Please email if you would like to use the SCRUB survey to collect data in your country or state (voluntarily or funded), or want access to the data.